History and Theory 40 (2):241–260 (2001)
This article probes some of the issues The Great War and Modern Memory raises today, whether by Fussell himself, by critics at the time of its original publication, or by rereading the book anew now, in the context of a veritable renaissance in the study of World War I and of the revolution effected by the "literary turn" in historical study. I situate Fussell's book against the backdrop of three foundational works or points of view in cultural history that came to the forefront after 1975. My purpose is not to chide Fussell for failing to anticipate the future directions of the cultural history of war, but rather to show how his work fits into the development of that history.I argue that The Great War and Modern Memory itself became a lieu de mémoire or "site of memory" of the Great War. But like many very successful works, Fussell's book became famous not exclusively or even primarily because of its originality, but because of its ability to reformulate or reinscribe pre-existing ways of understanding. As critic and as veteran, Fussell reasserted the "evidence of experience" as the cornerstone of war writing in the twentieth century. In addition, some of the impact of The Great War and Modern Memory can be explained by the way it supported the most venerable narrative explanation of the Great War, that of tragedy
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